Friday, 4 November 2016

Potential snake gassing ban killed by Texas Parks and Wildlife – via Herp Digest

By Asher Price - American-Statesman Staff, 10/24/16

Sidestepping recommendations from their staff and outside scientists, Texas Parks and Wildlife commissioners have quietly killed a proposal to ban rattlesnake gassing.

Commission Chairman Dan Friedkin, under pressure from key state lawmakers, removed the item from the agenda of the commission’s November meeting, seemingly ending several years of deliberations about the practice, in which gasoline is pumped or sprayed into caves and crevices to drive snakes from their winter dens for capture.

The seized snakes are then featured in rattlesnake roundups — old-fashioned carnivals in which snakes might be put on display, “milked” for venom or used in daredevil stunts.

The commissioners had long been in a political bind: Their own staffers have said gassing is a threat to snakes and other animals that live in the sinkholes, crevices and underground caverns found in wide swaths of the state. But rural lawmakers who represent towns with the popular rattlesnake festivals tried to stymie any ban.

The collection of snakes by gassing “generates passionate appeals from those on both sides,” said Friedkin, who made the decision in consultation with the department’s top staff. Lacking consensus on the matter or support from lawmakers, “any attempt to move forward with this proposal would be futile.”

Friedkin said he has asked Parks and Wildlife Department staffers to find ways to collect rattlesnakes that do not harm other species and “do not carry the adverse economic impacts that an outright ban could have on communities that thrive on rattlesnake roundups.”

Commercial collection of rattlesnakes takes place in dozens of Texas counties, including Williamson, Burnet and Llano, according to the parks department.

A 2013 petition supported by biologists, zoologists, herpetologists and ecologists from Texas and elsewhere triggered a closer look at the issue by the Parks and Wildlife Department, eventually leading to the ban proposal.

Researchers have shown that exposure to gas can cause short-term impairment or death for snakes, toads and lizards.
The commission “has decided that, at this time, there is insufficient support from legislative oversight or the potentially regulated community for the department to move forward with regulating the use of gasoline to collect rattlesnakes,” John Davis, wildlife diversity program director at the Parks and Wildlife Department, said Monday.

Among the lawmakers who have registered their opposition to a ban is state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, who represents Sweetwater, home to the largest roundup, and is chairman of the state Senate Agriculture, Water and Rural Affairs Committee.
“It is not necessary for the state to overreact by prohibiting a common practice that has not been conclusively shown to harm wildlife and habitats in its controlled, targeted use,” Perry and other lawmakers wrote to the Parks and Wildlife Department in 2014.

Perry and state Rep. Susan King, R-Abilene, whose district also includes Sweetwater, wrote legislation in 2015 that made it harder to change state rules through petitions.
Perry’s office said he was unavailable Monday, and King did not return a request for comment.

At least 29 states have banned the use of gas or toxic substances to collect or harass nongame wildlife, including the four states bordering Texas — Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma, according to information from environmentalists who were pushing for a ban.

But in Texas, the wildlife commissioners never appeared keen to take action on the ban proposal. The commission tabled a decision in 2014 after lawmakers weighed in and instead, in an apparent attempt at finding political cover, called for a working group to examine the issue. But the working group provided no cover, unable itself to come to consensus on key issues.
Environmental groups again filed a petition in March to push the agency to ban the practice. And in June, the commission’s vice chairman, Ralph Duggins, suggested that agency staffers return with the proposed ban in November, giving commissioners another opportunity to publish the proposal and take public comment on it.

“I’m deeply disappointed that the commission once again caved to pressure from rattlesnake hunters,” said Collette Adkins, a biologist and senior attorney at the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity.

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